EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Because of wet weather, state game wardens participating in Operation Dry Water found more bugs than boats Saturday out on Hadley Lake.
The goal of the program is more to educate boaters in Maine about safety and regulations than it is about issuing citations, and the Maine Warden Service started spreading the word about it before the weekend rain and thunderstorms blew into Maine.
But there were some boaters who ventured out Saturday to dodge raindrops and to try to enjoy the first weekend of summer. The safety checks help to serve as a reminder for recreational boaters who may not have ventured out on the water for several months, according to game wardens.
Joseph McBrine and Wayde Carter, two wardens who work in Washington County, said Saturday that making sure boaters aren’t impaired when they are out on the water is one of the program’s top objectives. People might view the consumption of alcohol while boating differently than drinking and driving a motor vehicle down the road, they said, because boating usually is considered more of a recreational and leisurely activity.
Still, the legal limits of blood alcohol levels (0.08 percent in Maine) apply to the operation of boats as much as they do cars or trucks, they said. It even applies to paddle craft such as canoes and kayaks, according to the wardens.
“We’ve not had any this spring yet,” Carter said Saturday about boaters in the Machias area charged with operating under the influence. Towing a warden service boat behind them, Carter and McBrine drove in a truck to Gardner Lake and then Hadley Lake on Saturday afternoon, looking for boaters.
Not that they haven’t been busy. Game wardens in Maine have a variety of responsibilities, ranging from enforcing hunting laws and searching for people lost in the woods or snow, to dealing with cornered or erratic wildlife such as bear or moose and checking boats, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles for proper registration. McBrine said they have gotten two calls this spring about moose infected with brain parasites behaving strangely.
In Hancock and Washington counties, wardens also patrol the Downeast Sunrise Trail, an 85-mile former rail bed between the towns of Hancock and Pembroke that is popular with ATV users, snowmobilers, bicyclists and others.
“That’s what I like about it,” Carter, a corporal with the warden service, said about his job. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
McBrine said the traditional start of boating season comes at a time of year when there isn’t much hunting going on, so they have more time to conduct boating safety checks. The use of life jackets is one major thing they check on and tell people about, he said, in an effort to prevent drownings.
Children 10 years old or younger are required by state law to wear life jackets when out on the water, and everyone else must have one that is easily accessible in case it is needed. But the wardens said they encourage everyone to wear one when they leave shore. Things can change quickly, they said, leaving people little time to react.
McBrine recalled a fatal accident in 2006 on Salmon Pond in which one man drowned while a second managed to swim to shore. The two men had life preservers, he said, but neither was wearing one or managed to get one on in time.
“If the water’s really deep, if it’s moving fast or if it’s cold, they ought to be wearing it.” McBrine said. “I don’t care how good a swimmer you are.”
McBrine said he sometimes will loan life jackets to boaters to make sure they have enough on board when they venture out. They just have to drop the life jackets off at his house or at the True Value hardware store in Machias when they’re done, he said.
“That way their day doesn’t get screwed up,” McBrine said.
Unless it rains, of course. But despite Saturday’s soggy weather, McBrine and Carter found and conducted safety checks on two boats on Hadley Lake. Both men operating the boats, Scott Verburgt and Stuart Langton, are local property owners who frequently go out on the lake and are used to seeing and talking with the wardens.
Each man chatted amicably with McBrine and Carter on Saturday as they showed the wardens their life jackets, fire extinguishers, registration stickers and other required items, a list of which can be found on the Maine Warden Service website.
Verburgt said he “got a little damp” and had the lake to himself earlier Saturday while he was fishing. He said he doesn’t mind occasionally having the wardens’ company.
“There aren’t too many brave people,” Verburgt said about the lack of boats on Hadley Lake. “They don’t like the rain.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.